November 17th

Michigan is experiencing a surge in COVID cases and deaths. The number of cases in Michigan is currently 400% higher than the number of cases at the peak of the first wave in April. There were 118 deaths from COVID reported this past Friday, the most since May 9th. Contact tracers are struggling to keep up with new cases.  Governor Whitmer announced on Sunday that Michigan is on pace for 1,000 deaths a week from COVID unless measures are taken to slow the spread of the virus. 

A November 11th letter to community leaders from the Eaton/Barry District Health Department began with, “We are in a crisis.  COVID-19 is spreading through our counties at unprecedented levels.”  The letter ended with the plea, “We reduced the spread of COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic.  We estimate that dozens of lives were saved in our district.  We can do it again with your help and the help of the community. The COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything we have ever faced before, and it will take all of us, together, to keep our residents safe.”

This Wednesday, the Michigan Department Of Health And Human Services will institute an emergency three-week re-tightening of restrictions in response to the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases. The Michigan Health and Hospital Association backed the order with this statement: “Community spread is rising rapidly across the state, meaning healthcare workers are being exposed and leaving hospitals with strained capacity.  We urge Michiganders to comply with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services emergency order. The faster we can squash this surge, the faster we can safely resume our lives and livelihoods.  Hospitals are asking all of Michigan to unite against COVID-19.”

Your Church Council and Elders met last night to discuss our ministry in light of the sobering facts of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus in our communities. We noted that worship attendance has declined from an average of 133 people in October to about 60 this past weekend, indicating that many of our brothers and sisters are concerned about indoor gatherings at this time.

So out of love for our brothers and sisters in our church family, in a desire to do our part to help protect our community, and out of respect for our government and recommended measures and precautions, our leaders determined that we will suspend worship services, classes, and gatherings for the three weeks of the emergency order that takes effect Wednesday, November 18th and continues through December 9th.  We will re-evaluate resuming services, classes, and gatherings when the three-week emergency order ends, considering the status of the pandemic, government recommendations, and how best to serve our congregation and community in love.

We did not arrive at this decision quickly or lightly. We understand the importance of in-person worship, the fellowship of believers, the reception of the Lord’s Supper together, and how we all cherish and desire that.  We are asking God’s people at Shepherd of the Hills to sacrifice that for a short time in very extreme circumstances for the greater good of safeguarding the health of our members and our community.   We will still have access to the preaching of the gospel in videotaped services and Bible classes, and Pastor Burger and Pastor Tullberg are still glad to provide the Lord’s Supper to members who desire that at church under sanitary conditions.  And while we discourage drop-by visits just to say “hi” to the staff at this time, Amy and the pastors will continue to work out of the office and are glad to see those who need assistance by appointment.

We are not suspending serving God’s people in their needs.  In fact, we are asking you to do a little more to serve your brothers and sisters in this difficult time.  Is there someone you know from our church family you can check on or encourage?  Can you send a card or two or make a call to one or several of our shut-ins or people who are ill?  Call Amy at the office to get some names.  Pray for your brothers and sisters in our church directory one page per day.  Contact your pastors or leaders if you have ideas about ways we can better serve each other and stay connected and encouraged.

We will keep you all updated via our Flocknote email network on ministry news. Look for information on classes coming soon. 

Thanks for your understanding of these measures. Please pray for God to give wisdom to your leaders as they navigate the ministry of Shepherd of the Hills in these rare and difficult days.

While we will not be worshiping or meeting together in-person for a while, we will not stop worshiping, praying, hearing and learning God’s Word, caring about and serving each other and those in our community, and sharing Christ’s saving gospel.  We still have opportunities to do all of that, and because we are Christ’s Church, we will never stop doing that until his return. 

May 29 Update

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The church in Corinth was in a situation that has repeated itself through the centuries in many congregations. The members of the congregation and community found themselves in many different places. They had varied backgrounds, beliefs, and personal situations.  The Lord encouraged them to sacrifice for each other in love. Here’s a snapshot of the directives the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write in 1 Corinthians: “Though I am free and belong to no one, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible…I have become all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (verses 19,22,23) We find ourselves in a similar situation.  Some are apprehensive about contracting Coronavirus, others concerned about being a part of spreading it, others thinking our actions will not make a difference, and still others convinced this is all much ado about nothing. As we return to worship, there are many issues to consider. We aren’t health experts. There is a church exemption from much of the lockdown orders. But we are bound by God’s law and love. The Lord asks us to consider what others may be concerned about even if we may not share those concerns. So out of love for the Lord, out of love for others, and out of love for the Gospel, we are asking those attending worship with us to sacrifice their personal freedom where needed. Some temporary changes in our worship life will be welcomed by some and considered a great sacrifice by others. These changes are being suggested to make as many as possible feel safe in our services with the hope that many of our members will be able to “share in the blessings” of worship once again. We do this “for the sake of the gospel.”

OFFERING IN PERSON WORSHIP:

Your leadership has considered the resources offered by the WELS and surveyed many other congregations in the area and across the country to find, what we pray, are the wisest practices for our setting in Lansing. We plan to return to “face to face” worship for the first time with four services: three on Sunday, June 7th, at 8:00 am 9:30 am and 10:15 am; and one on Monday, June 8th at 7:00 pm.  We encourage you to consider the following precautions and then exercise your good judgment in deciding to join us in person and/or to continue to utilize the “virtual” options for spiritual growth that continue to be available.  The precautions listed below are not unique to us, most congregations are making similar suggestions, including our sister WELS churches in the the Lansing area. We absolutely plan to assess how things go as we return and to modify these precautions based our congregation’s needs and pandemic changes.

PRECAUTIONARY GUIDELINES FOR UPCOMING WORSHIP SERVICES:

Schedule:  The 8am Sunday service and the Monday night service, for lack of a better term, are being called “restricted” services. These services will be geared to those who are in the vulnerable categories, but it is open to anyone. There will be no singing at this service. We are encouraging the wearing of masks, if medically able, for all services, but particularly for these two services.

The 9:30am and 11am services will have some singing. The liturgy will follow the template that we are currently using for our online services. The services will naturally be shorter than normal.

  • Sign Up for Church: We will have people sign up ahead of time for which service that they want to attend. And currently we are going to limit the number of people at each service to 50. (This could change in the future)

Go to this link to register for church – https://rb.gy/aszqbx or you can go to the front page of our church website – sothlansing.org This will have to be done each week.

If you don’t have internet access, please call the church office to register. 517-627-3913

  • Illness: If you are not feeling well, please stay home and enjoy the service online.

https://www.youtube.com/user/sothlansing1

  • Entrances: The entrances will all be open. We do ask that you observe social distance guidelines as you enter and leave the facilities.
  • Doors: We will keep all interior sanctuary doors open.  If weather permits, we’ll open exterior doors as well. 
  • Offerings: Offerings may be placed in the offering boxes located near the entrances as you arrive. The offering plates will not be passed during the service. (For those worshiping at home, the opportunities during quarantine to make offerings will still be in place online.) https://www.sothlansing.org/give-online/

Thanks to all those who are able to support the Lord’s work with their prayers and offerings!

  • Bulletins: The entire service will be printed in the bulletin. Bulletins will be on a stand next to the doors. Grab one before you enter. Please recycle the bulletin as you leave or bring them home for your reference (do not leave them behind if you used them).
  • Hymnals: The hymnals have been removed from the pew racks to reduce points of contact
  • Seating: Please sit with your family and keep six feet distance minimum between your group and the next closest family group.  We will be using every other pew.
  • Dismissal: For now, you are asked to refrain from handshaking and other physical contact with others.
  • Fellowship: For those desiring to visit with your church family and friends, we encourage meeting outside if the weather permits.
  • Sanitizing: Hand sanitizer will be available near the sanctuary entrances. We’ll be sanitizing the church between each of the services as well.
  • Pastors: Because the pastors could potentially come into contact with a lot of people from two different churches, the pastors are going to limit the amount of time spent in the narthex before and after the services. They will also be donning masks before and after the services, and during communion. If you would like to talk to either pastor personally, please make an appointment through the church office.

HOLY COMMUNION:  For now, the pastor will bring Holy Communion to the people while they stay in the pew. The pastor will walk up and down the empty pews in order to distribute the Lord’s Supper.

Our thanks also to the Council for the extra meetings and discussions required to offer a safe and comfortable return to worship for God’s people.  Their love for worship, for God, and for you—our church family— has shone clearly in their discussions and decisions.  Feel free to offer your feedback on these issues.  We are here to serve you.  Please continue to contact one of the pastors or the church office with your concerns and other spiritual needs. Register to receive our emails by going to this link – https://sothlansing.flocknote.com/everyone

 

Finally, we know this time has been very atypical, and for that we thank you for your patience and understanding for these last few months and for the months ahead. Things in the world seem to be changing rapidly, and our prayer to our Heavenly Father is that over the next few months we can return to normal more and more.

As always, you remain in our prayers.  We look forward to seeing many of you soon!

May 15th Update

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
To say that the last few months have been out of the ordinary would be an understatement. It was especially hard for us as Christians to miss worshipping together during Holy Week. Thankfully, the Lord has blessed us with the technology to continue worshipping digitally. However, this is no true substitute for worshipping as one body and receiving the encouragement of Christian friends on a Sunday morning or Monday evening.
 
Throughout this whole ordeal, we been trying to follow the principals that are laid out scripture, particularly concerning the 3rd, 4th, and 5th commandments. I Peter 2:11-17 states:
 
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and temporary residents in the world, to abstain from the desires of the sinful flesh, which war against your soul. 12 Live an honorable life among the Gentiles so that even though they slander you as evildoers, when they observe your noble deeds, they may glorify God on the day he visits us.
13 Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the king as the supreme authority 14 or to governors as those who have been sent by him to punish those who do what is wrong and to praise those who do what is right. 15 For this is God’s will: that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 Do this as free people, and do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but use it as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
 
And while this time has been stressful for everyone involved, I also trust that God is using it for his own good purposes. 1) Families are spending more time together. 2) People are taking the time to study God’s Word using our Bible studies, personal devotions, and other online resources. 3) We have had to relearn scriptural virtues like patience, endurance, trust, etc. 4) Church families are calling each other more. 5) We are going to have a renewed appreciation for public Word and Sacrament when this is all over. 
 
And, of course, there is much more good that God will bring about in his own time.
 
Before I give you the plan, I want to make one thing very clear: We don’t want to endanger the health of anyone in our church family. Therefore, if you don’t feel safe coming to church yet, stay home. Pastor Burger and I will continue to tape the services ahead of time, like we’re doing now. And we will continue to offer private communion to everyone. And, eventually, we hope to be able to visit people in their homes again.
 
Now, for reopening public worship:
  • The new target date is Sunday, June 7th.
  • There will be 3 services on Sunday (8, 9:30, 11am) and 1 on Monday night (7pm)
  • The 8am Sunday service and the Monday night service, for lack of a better term, are being called “restricted” services. These services will be geared to those who are in the vulnerable categories. As such, there will be no singing at this service. And we are encouraging the wearing of masks for these services, if medically able.
  • The 9:30am and 11am services will have some singing. The liturgy will follow the template that we are currently using for our online services. The services will naturally be shorter than normal.
  • Between each service, the church will be sanitized.
  • We will most likely have people sign up ahead of time for which service they want to attend. And currently we are going to limit the number of people at each service to 50. (This could change depending on government rules). The sign up will be on our website, or the church office can be called. (More info on this will be sent out as we get closer to opening.)
  • The offering will be gathered in the back of the church in an offering box.  
  • For communion, only the pastor will handle the elements. (We’ll have sanitizer for the pastor under the lectern). There will be no common cup. And we’ll space people out when they approach the altar.
All of this is very new for us as a church, so I ask your patience if the first few weeks are a little discombobulated. Also, because of the nature of this virus and the various rules being put into place, the plans we have in place now could change rapidly. We’ll keep everyone notified on a regular basis on any changes.

March 17th Updates

The pastors and the church council have made the difficult decision to cancel the next two Sunday services, along with the rest of the Wednesday Lenten services. The President of the United States and the CDC is recommending that no more than 10 people be gathered at one in one place. For sake of the safety and health of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will move our worship online for the next couple of weeks. Praise to the Lord that we have the technology to do that.

Every weekday, Pastor Tullberg will be releasing a short Bible study on the Small Catechism. Pastor Burger will be putting out videos that deal with anxiety, worry, death, the future, etc. Please share these videos with your friends. This is a great time for outreach, because God has answers to so many questions that unbelievers are asking.

On Saturday night, you’ll be emailed a family Bible study that can be done on Sunday.

On Sunday, we’ll have on YouTube a truncated worship service. https://www.youtube.com/user/sothlansing1

If you need to meet with a pastor, please make an appointment. Office hours might be sporadic.

One last note – the work of God’s church hasn’t stopped. We will continue to preach the Gospel. We just need to adjust to the current conditions, as Christians have been doing for 2,000 years. We pray to God that we will be back to our normal way of worship quickly, but we trust that God is in control of the timetable.

Don’t forget that our church must continue to pay its bills, and that our synod will also most likely face a shortfall because of this. You can mail your offering to the church, or donate online at https://www.sothlansing.org/give-online/

Below is a list of daily devotionals and websites:

The WELS has daily general devotions, as well as devotions for teens.
 
Our sister synod, the ELS, also has daily devotions
 
Peace Devotions has really good video devotions
 
What About Jesus has good articles and devotions, especially articles to share with unbelievers.
 
Time of Grace has devotions, sermons, and articles
 
WELS News YouTube has thousands of recorded sermons
 
WELS Radio has music from WELS bands and choirs
 
 

Temporary Changes at SOTH

March 12, 2020

Dear Member of SOTH,
Your church council spent some detailed time in our March meeting discussing the COVID-19 virus, recommendations from government and health officials, and have decided to make some temporary changes.
 
These changes take into account the fact that health officials suspect, that while this new Coronavirus is mostly spread in the air (coughing and sneezing for example), it is possible the virus can live on surfaces for some time, and be taken into the body by hands touching the eyes and face.
 
The virus is also peculiar in that, while it poses a minimal danger to children, they can become some of the most active transmitters of the disease. For the elderly, the effects can be life-threatening, as well as to anyone whose immune system is weak.
 
Here specifically are our encouragements, recommendations, and temporary policies in response to the situation as of today:
  • If you feel ill, have a cough or sneeze, or are immune-compromised, we encourage you to refrain from worship temporarily. We will have our service posted online, usually by Sunday afternoon. We are evaluating other worship options as well if the situation changes. The pastors can also come to you and bring you the Lord’s Supper, or you can stop by the church during the week (please call ahead).
  • We would like to encourage our older members to attend the 8:00 AM Sunday services.
  • We would like to encourage our younger members, and families with children, to attend the 10:30 AM services.
  • There will no Bible study or Sunday School between services until further notice, as cleaning and sanitizing will take place between services.
  • We will not be passing the offering plate. A box or boxes will be set up for you to place your offering on the way out of the church. Please investigate also our online giving options. https://www.sothlansing.org/give-online/
  • On Communion Sundays, we will suspend the use of the common cup for now. For the same reason, we will encourage you to extend your hand to receive the wafer dropped into it.
  • After services this Sunday, the hymnals will be removed for cleaning and sanitizing. (This needs to be done anyhow!). We will use a printed bulletin for all hymns and liturgy for the near future. When the health risks have passed, we will return to our hymnals. We are asking you to take the bulletin home and not return to the back desk.
  • And we have learned a new and foreign concept to SOTH: “Social Distancing”. We are a very friendly church—so now we are asking you to be more aloof, but to be aloof with a smile and a nod. This will pass. So, when you leave the church, try to avoid the normal hugs, handshakes, and closeness we have as the body of Christ.
John 14: 27 “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, and do not let it be afraid.” In that peace which Jesus gives, let us continue to serve our Savior in our lives and callings. We trust these temporary changes reflect both our trust in God’s care for us, and in his encouragement to take care of the bodies and lives he has given to us.
 
William Stiefel – Congregation President